As you read this, know that you are probably one of many who will become People Without A History. Why? Because almost everything you write and every photo you save — things that have traditionally informed historians about previous generations — exist only in the digital domain, on hard drives or SSD devices. The half-life of a mechanical hard drive is about five years. That means the magnetic particles on the surface of the drive lose 50 percent of their strength in five years, and that makes your magnetically stored data vulnerable to corruption.
There is also the question of digital media’s obsolescence. What technology will your grandchildren use to access your letters and photos? In 50 years, a LaCie drive will probably be an unfamiliar object.
If you back up your hard drive with another, and maybe another, and leave them all at your home, you have broken Rule 2 of archiving: Geographically separate your master copies. What’s Rule 1? Your master should last 100 years and be readable with the naked eye. Okay, they are not rules, but they are among archivists’ 10 commandments, I guarantee you. So, unless we all start saving our pictures and correspondence on good old paper, we will pass nothing of our own history to our grandchildren, or possibly even to our children.
And what of our collective cultural heritage? As motion-picture labs close, moving images are more and more likely to be “preserved” on formats that cannot rival the universality of motion-picture film. There is no universally agreed-upon or proven archival storage method for digital media.
Hollywood studios have announced they will soon stop making 35mm release prints for new movies, and that they intend to stop striking new prints of existing films. This is terrible news for revival houses, small film festivals, movie theaters that cannot afford to buy or maintain digital projectors, and museums or archives that occasionally want to screen a movie with a film projector, as it was originally intended to be shown. It is amazing to us that Hollywood has no plan to facilitate the screening of films in their original formats.
It is also amazing that in the industry’s transition to digital exhibition, little thought has been given to the sizable educational market. At some colleges and universities, cinematography students mainly screen film prints, seldom Blu-rays or DVDs. Cinematography students need to build a comprehensive mental library that includes the wondrous artifacts of grain, gate weave, motion blur, and the other imaging glories of film.
Well, this is awards season, and the magazine you are reading recently won four Folio Awards for Editorial Excellence, or “Eddies.” In the category of Business to Business: Media/Entertainment/Publishing, the magazine’s June ’12 and Dec. ’11 editions won the Gold and Silver Eddies, respectively, for Best Full Issue. And AC associate editor Jon Witmer won the Gold Eddie for Best Single Article for his piece on The Avengers (June ’12), while contributing writer Benjamin Bergery won the Silver Eddie for Best Single Article for his piece on The Tree of Life (Aug. ’11). Congratulations to our publisher, Martha Winterhalter, and executive editor, Stephen Pizzello, as well as their colleagues! Onward … with paper!